A Midsummer Night’s Sin

Robin Goodfellow Blackthorn is the youngest of the Blackthorn Brothers. Having been blessed, or cursed with this Shakespearean name by his actress mother, he is, of course, generally called ‘Puck’. As one of the Blackthorn bastards, he has felt compelled to live up to the ‘Trickster’ aspects of his Puckish nickname, but in A Midsummer Night’s Sin, the second Blackthorn Brothers book by Kasey Michaels, both the dark and light sides of Puck’s nature are required in order to bring this complex but ultimately rewarding historical romance to its delightful final curtain.

Puck has returned to England in order to find out what his middle brother Jack, not so fondly known as Black Jack, is up to. In the first book in the series, The Taming of the Rake (see review), oldest brother Beau got married, and it was revealed that second son Jack, instead of being quite as black as his nickname would suggest, is actually some kind of secret operative for the government. Puck wants to learn what Jack is up to, and possibly get Jack to mend fences with their father.

Mostly, Puck just wants in on whatever adventure Jack is having.

Regina Hackett thought that she and her cousin Miranda were headed to a ball, properly escorted by Miranda’s mother. But Miranda re-arranged all the plans so that the young ladies were instead off for a masked ball at the considerably less reputable, actually quite scandalous, Lady Fortescue’s.

Puck is attending the masquerade in his pursuit of an entree into the lower echelons of the ton, and in his pursuit of his brother’s confederates. But he is captivated by the sight of Regina Hackett, and, believing her one of the ladies hired for the evening’s entertainment, entices her into the garden for a kiss. Regina takes advantage of the anonymity of her mask to experience the beginnings of a flirtation, but when Puck details all of the naughty things he wants to do with her, in French, and starts acting on that list, her shaky innocent withdrawal finally convinces him that she is not what he assumed her to be.

But her cousin Miranda, petite and blonde, has been kidnapped from the masked ball. And when Regina searches desperately for her, she runs headlong into Puck. He is the only possible source of help, and he did act almost honorably, at least once convinced of her innocence. Puck and his coachman determine that Miranda was taken against her will; she did not leave for an assignation. Then Regina and Puck fabricate a story that will cover up the girls’ departure from their original schedule.

Puck’s and Regina’s association should have ended there. Miranda’s father should have called out the Bow Street Runners, and a search for the missing girl should have begun immediately. But the situation is much more complicated than it appears.

Miranda is not the first petite blonde young woman to be kidnapped in London. She is one of more than two dozen such women.  Many have been prostitutes, but some are from extremely well-connected families. Jack and his confederates are on the case on behalf of the government. This isn’t just a matter of kidnapping, “white slavery” is suspected, but no one has been able to determine who the ringleaders are.

But now that her cousin has been kidnapped, Regina feels compelled to help Puck find the culprits, even if her father turns out to be one of them.

But why should Regina even suspect her father? At first, Reginald Hackett seems like just another tyrannical father, a stock character in any romance, if a bit more menacing than most. So what if his father effectively “bought” Regina’s mother, and her title, as a way of bringing his merchant family up in the world? He’s not the first to do so. But Lady Letitia Hackett lives in abject terror of her husband, and so does the rest of his household.

When he demands that the Bow Street Runners he finances go to Gretna Green in search of Miranda, even though Reginald admits that he knows she did not elope, he raises suspicions in many minds.

Soon, Regina and her mother are hiding out from her father in a variety of Puck’s households in London, while Puck, Regina and Jack’s men search for the missing women. But if her father does turn out to be the kidnapper, can Regina possibly have a future when he is caught, even with one of the infamous Blackthorn bastards?

Escape Rating A: This should have been a light, frothy romance, and it wasn’t. But it was all the better for it. Regina is a woman who finds amazing depths of courage, in order to keep hunting for her cousin. Puck reminds me of the Scarlet Pimpernel. He looks and acts like a complete lightweight, up until the point where he totally isn’t.

The “white slavery” plot is one that was a staple of penny-dreadfuls, and it was used here to great effect. It made for an appropriately dark and dastardly villain and gave this story a breakneck pace as the search for Miranda and the other girls ran towards its deadline.

I can’t wait for Jack’s book! Much Ado About Rogues should be out in March 2012. Not soon enough. Not at all!